As I was driving with my son to school yesterday morning, we could see on the fields just a thin line of fog, that was mixing quite beautifully with the colors of fall. My son got his phone and took some pictures immediately. Both of us were quite joyful in contemplating the beauty of the scenery.
This morning, there was some fog again, which prompted us to talk about yesterday. “The pictures did not look that good,” my son said. And I surprised myself with this reply, “Yes, they did not show the beauty of it. Yesterday, it was as beautiful as a painting.”
There were three levels in our discussion: reality, reality captured improperly in one form of art (photography), and art (painting) according to which one could judge the value of reality itself. I could translate what I said to my son with something along these lines: “Your picture would have been valuable as long as it reached the standard set by paintings; yesterday’s scenery did this.”
The bottom line was this: the standard of beauty is given by art. If the morning fog on our way to school was beautiful, it was because it resembled art.
And I have to wonder: what does this say about me? Do I need to be told what beauty is in order to be able to perceive it? Is there an incapacity of direct communion with reality (perhaps due to an incapacity of genuine communion with the inner human)? Do I, in my humanness, need mediation in order to understand whether a scenery, a book, an action, or a human are beautiful? Do I need mediation in order to rejoice? Was my enjoyment of the morning fog already mediated by my previous contemplation of “morning fogs” in pictures and paintings?
I guess Plato may have something to say about it.